The Museum of Fine Arts and S.M.A.K. joined forces to programme Hareng Saur: Ensor and contemporary art. This exhibition was one of a series of events in Belgium and abroad to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of James Ensor (1860-1949). It took a distinctly different approach by associating Ensor with the work of contemporary artists.
Hareng Saur: Ensor and contemporary art took a new step in the approach to Ensor's oeuvre. The exhibition showed that Ensor has retained his topicality even on today's art scene. He was taken out of his historical context and approached decisively as a timeless artist whose themes and technique are inseparably linked to the practices of many contemporary artists. Even at the start of the twenty-first century, Ensor's subjects and points of view remain resoundingly up to date. Such subjects as the mask and the grotesque, social critique, the self-portrait, the identification with Christ, the masses, satire and death have after all lost none of their relevance in contemporary visual art. The exhibition made unexpected links and demonstrated that in his visionary oeuvre Ensor pursued a goal that connects him to numerous contemporary artists.
In addition to an extensive selection of Ensor's work (paintings, drawings and prints), the exhibition also included contemporary kindred spirits and counterparts in the genres of painting, sculpture, video, installation, performance, drawing, etc. Ensor's visual world is thereby linked to those of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Francis Alys, Huma Bhabha, Jake and Dinos Chapman, George Condo, Thierry De Cordier, Marlene Dumas, Thomas Hirschhorn, Yang Jiechang, Tomasz Kowalski, Jonathan Meese, Bruce Nauman, Ugo Rondinone, Dana Schutz, Cindy Sherman, Raymond Pettibon, Thomas Schütte, Jan Vercruysse, Thomas Zipp and others.
Each of these works were shown in a context where a limited number of works by Ensor were shown as a point of departure. This gave rise to an interaction in which connections are made, confrontations entered into and nuances distinguished.